Centre for Cancer Biomarkers CCBIO
cancer research news

Smoking can activate a wide range of cancer types

CCBIO’s Professor Helga Salvesen has been co-author of a study recently published in the renowned journal JAMA Oncology. The results of the study may indicate that cigarette smoke helps to activate an entire universal "cancer program" which are also present in cancer that are not usually associated with smoking, including breast and gynecological cancers.

investigator swabs a person in his mouth.
Swabbing buccal cells.

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The purpose of the research was to assess the suitability of buccal cells as an epithelial source of tissue to examine the effects of smoking on the epigenome, and to test whether these effects are also seen in smoke-related epithelial cancers.


Smoking might activate an entire cancer program

- We wanted to examine how smoking affects the genetic material in cells from oral mucosa and tumors, Helga Salvesen explains. - Our findings show that DNA changes associated with smoking can be detected in the genetic material in cells scraped from the inside of the mouth. The study suggests that smoking has an impact on the epigenome in normal cells that are directly exposed to the carcinogen in cigarette smoke, says Salvesen.

Changes in the genetic material, mutations, can predispose to the development of cancer. Previously it is also known that environmental factors such as smoking predisposes to cancer development, as exposure to tobacco smoke is one of the best-known and potent risk factors for epithelial cancers and notably lung cancer. The epigenetic changes in this study however, was found in cancer tumors from smokers regardless of whether the cancer is known as smoke related.


Buccal cells more suited than blood

Buccal cells constitute an easily accessible source of epithelial cells with direct exposure to tobacco smoke. The study points toward buccal cells as being a more appropriate source of tissue than blood to conduct epigenome-wide association studies (EWASs) for smoking-related epithelial cancers. Some smoking-associated DNA methylation changes are common to buccal and blood tissue, but buccal cells exhibit significantly more changes than blood cells.


Also read article in Dagens Medisin (Norwegian).